No welcome mat for Coyotes

Jets fans weren't too kind to the visiting Coyotes at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Dec. 1, 2011....

Jets fans weren't too kind to the visiting Coyotes at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Dec. 1, 2011. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:45 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It turned out to be the understatement of the day, if not the young season.

“I’m sure anyone who comes in here isn’t going to be welcomed that much.”

The words were uttered by old Jet Shane Doan before he led his Phoenix Coyotes onto the ice against the new Jets, Thursday night.

Welcomed?

Winnipeg fans treated the ’Yotes like a bad case of hemorrhoids, booing not just the captain but every one of his teammates, every time they touched the puck.

Obviously, any warm-and-fuzzies left for the franchise linked to the ’Peg’s puck past have frozen and developed blisters.

The Finnish Flash himself could pull on a Desert Dogs jersey and instantly become Public Enemy No. 1, based on Thursday night’s reaction.

And to think, True North Sports came within a whisker of buying this bunch instead of the Atlanta Thrashers.

The only thing preventing it, a city council in Glendale, Ariz., that hasn’t seen a good taxpayer dollar it doesn’t want to throw after a bad one.

“It was close,” Doan said. “For two years it’s been close. You come into this city and you see the people and how excited they are, you appreciate it.

“It’s hockey and it’s in Canada — it’s special.”

The Coyotes mantra: it’s hockey and it’s in Arizona — who cares?

The funny thing is, despite a third year of vultures circling the franchise, the Coyotes continue to trot through the sand, apparently unfazed by the heat.

“It’s a different scenario, now,” Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said. “Last year with the Hulsizer group looking like they were going to get it, with the Goldwater Group in Glendale, there was a lot of stuff that was around. This year, even though we’re in the same boat, it’s all quiet. There’s not a supposed owner around the team. The NHL has done a good job of making sure that whatever’s happening is happening behind closed doors.”

So while everybody waits for the NHL to turn the lights out on the franchise, the Coyotes have been playing lights-out hockey.

The Jets would do well to emulate Phoenix’s all-for-one, one-for-all approach under Tippett, whose charges had won 13 of 23 games, compared to Winnipeg’s nine of 24, going in.

Thursday night, they did, with a solid, 1-0 win, more resembling a team than a bunch of players wearing the same jersey.

The Phoenix formula works.

“Our leadership of players has really bought in to how we have to play to be successful,” Tippett said.

While the ’Yotes have bought in, the youthful Jets often have short arms and deep pockets, still needing some convincing to commit to something that doesn’t look overly sexy.

Who’d rather buy work boots than a shiny new pair of Gucci’s?

Tippett’s crew, though, is steel-toed, all the way.

“We know we all have to play well together or we’re not going to win,” the salesman said. “They rely on each other to do the job. It takes time. Anybody that just comes in and says they’re going to flip a switch and change the mindset of a big group of people, that wouldn’t be right.”

Jets boss Claude Noel is realistic enough to know that, too.

Instead of looking for a switch to flip, he rolled up his sleeves and got busy rewiring the place.

Drop in on his project and you still see plenty of loose ends, bare wires protruding here and there, even some of the old knob-and-tube junk, left over from Atlanta.

Thursday night, a few more bulbs lit up.

And a lusty, downtown Winnipeg crowd welcomed the fact it came at the expense of our old friends from Phoenix.


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